Fats and oils are ingredients in many nutritious foods. But what exactly are essential fatty acids and what is their role in health? 

What are essential fatty acids? These are types of fats that the body can’t make on its own but that are needed for daily bodily functions such as absorbing fat-soluble vitamins A, D, E and K. Therefore, it’s important to get a sufficient amount through food. 

How many calories are in dietary fat? One gram contains 9 calories. 

What are the primary types of fats? Saturated and unsaturated. Unsaturated fats are further divided into monounsaturated, polyunsaturated fats. 

What are the dietary sources of saturated fats? Meat, dairy and some plant-based foods and ingredients such as palm oil and coconut products

What are the dietary sources of unsaturated fats? Mostly oils from plants and fish. 

Are saturated fats the same as trans fats? No. Trans fat is a type of fat known to cause health issues. Palm oil is now used as a healthy replacement for trans fats in many types of foods. 

What are the recommended intake amounts for saturated and unsaturated fats? For decades, healthcare officials recommended lowering intake of saturated fats and replacing them with highly processed vegetable oils such as canola and sunflower. However, despite these recommendations, heart disease rates that should have been linked to lower saturated fat intake, have instead steadily risen. So have obesity and related diseases. 

What may be causing this trend, if it’s not saturated fat? Some experts blame over-processed processed foods. They also argue that one macronutrient (fat, protein or carbohydrate) cannot be blamed for disease progression. Instead, diet as a whole is what really matters. 

How is palm oil connected with saturated fat? Palm oil contains 50% saturated fatty acids and 50% unsaturated fatty acids (40% monounsaturated and 10% polyunsaturated). 

Why does palm oil’s balanced fatty acid composition matter? This makes it a stable oil, which is especially good for use in frying foods. 

Why do some people demonize palm oil? They misunderstand the role of saturated fats in human health.

What is palm oil’s effect on cholesterol? Palm oil consumption, as part of a balanced and healthy diet, helps to keep total cholesterol within normal limits. Many human studies have shown that palm oil has a neutral effect on total cholesterol levels, and that it’s comparable to polyunsaturated-rich oils. 

Can palm oil be substituted for olive oil? Yes! Palm oil can safely be used instead of olive oil, for the same heart health benefits. 

How much fat do you need in your diet? According to the 2015 U.S. dietary guidelines, 25% to 30% of your daily calories should come from fats including saturated fats. 

Are there any health concerns related to consuming palm oil? There are no indications that consuming palm oil is related to any specific health concern. The relationshp between nutrients and health must consider the whole diet not only specific ingredients.

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